10 Tips for Photographing Local Cultures

A highlight of any visit to Namibia is meeting the local people whose culture may be vastly different to your own, but whose warmth makes you feel quite at home. However, photographing local people is a delicate thing, and we want to offer ten quick tips to properly prepare you.

  • It is illegal to take photos of men and women in uniform, except when they are performing in a public parade or similar. Taking a picture of a police officer on duty is thus out of the question.

  • Ask your guide to break the ice. If you’re planning to take photos of people in their private surroundings, it is always best to have a local guide to take you around, converse with the people and overcome the barrier of photographer versus subject.

  • Always ask before you photograph someone. Not everybody likes to have his or her picture taken, so to avoid conflict, ask first. When in a crowd, it is easy to take a photo of someone with them not noticing, but in less populated areas, it's insensitive to just snap away.

  • Some people will expect payment for having their photo taken. This includes the Himba and Herero who still dress traditionally. They spend a lot of time and effort on their appearance and if you “steal” their image without payment it may land you in a bad position. Best is to agree on a price before you take the photo.

  • Young children are often fond of being photographed, but it’s always best to ask a guardian or parent first. Taking photographs of children without permission from their parents might land you in big trouble.

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  • Older people might be more hesitant to have their photo taken. Once again, friendliness and patience will get you far. If the subject seems unwilling, have a chat with him or her, maybe show him some of your other photos, let them warm up to you, and then ask again.
  • If you take a photograph of someone, show it to him or her afterwards (when shooting digitally). Many people don’t own cameras and is amazed by the possibilities of technology. This gesture will also make them warm up to you, which might result in you getting an even greater photograph.

  • If possible, send a printed copy of the photo to the subject. Those who live in rural areas without camera equipment will really appreciate it. But don’t make empty promises. If you’re not sure if you’ll ever get to send the photo, rather not make the promise.

  • When taking photos at a cultural village, at a cultural performance, or on a pre-arranged photographic tour, it is not necessary to ask for permission. To be on the safe side, check with your guide or local companion first.

  • When on an organized tour, many photo opportunities have been pre-arranged, making it easy for you to just snap away and leave the formalities to your guide. Ask your guide about this if you’re not sure.

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